BROOKE GLADSTONE: Clark's recent entrance into the race means that there are now ten Democrats seeking the nomination, but even without such a big field, the 2004 election will be awash in media coverage this year and next, and with each candidate event, newsrooms all over the country will have to decide what's newsworthy. Most campaign stories are national, so might not necessarily belong in a local newscast, but all that changes when one of the candidates is also local. Tom Weber reports from member station KWMU on how the St. Louis media are covering their homeboy, Dick Gephardt. [HUM OF CROWD]
TOM WEBER: On a cool Monday night earlier this summer, more than a hundred people gathered at a political rally in a small German restaurant in South St. Louis. This is land Dick Gephardt represents in Congress, but folks here are watching tapes of their pick for 2004, Howard Dean.
HOWARD DEAN: I'm tired of being told what to do by fundamentalist preachers and.... [CROWD CHEERS, APPLAUSE]
TOM WEBER: Dean supporters gather here regularly, but the head of Dean's Missouri campaign, Diane Ortball, says there hasn't been much local coverage of her guy. She thinks that should change despite the fact that this is Gephardt country.
DIANE ORTBALL: You know, I don't think the-- that even the Dean campaign plans on winning Missouri, but yeah, the media hasn't given us the time of day yet.
TOM WEBER: St. Louis's major newspaper, the Post-Dispatch, is currently running a series that runs each Sunday and includes a profile of a different Democrat running for president. Wesley Clark will be a late addition to the series, but it was the papers five-part series this summer about Gephardt that prompted letters to the editor from some who really don't like the man -- people like Robert Gravlin, who wrote that "it looks as if the paper is on Richard Gephardt's campaign committee." Gravlin isn't so much concerned with the other Democrats as he is with other Republicans getting equal coverage.
ROBERT GRAVLIN: We're a one-newspaper town. You know. There should be some kind of a moderation where--give the left and the right equal coverage. But it isn't. It just all leans to one side. And that, that's what I'm not really happy about.
DICK GEPHARDT: Here, at the heart of the American dream, I announce my candidacy for the presidency of the United States. [CHEERS, WHISTLES]
TOM WEBER: When Gephardt announced his candidacy in St. Louis in February, both local and national news outlets were there. Those events are the easiest of editorial decisions: when a candidate is in town, cover him or her. Earlier this month, in Albuquerque, when eight of the nine Democrats in the race at the time gathered for a forum, this Gephardt line was one of the most used by all media the next morning.
DICK GEPHARDT: This president is a miserable failure.
TOM WEBER: But the lines between a national campaign and a local story are blurred with a local candidate. Ed Bishop edits the St. Louis Journalism Review at Webster University. He has often criticized the Post-Dispatch but says on this matter the extra Gephardt coverage is appropriate.
ED BISHOP: If he did win the presidency, that would mean a tremendous boost to this region. Ask yourself, why is the Johnson Space Center in the middle of Texas? Because when the Johnson Space Center was built, Lyndon Johnson was president of the United States.
TOM WEBER: The Post-Dispatch's editor, Ellen Soeteber, says the paper has a responsibility to cover Gephardt in depth because it's covered him since he was a city alderman, and no other paper knows him better.
ELLEN SOETEBER: We aren't out to further Mr. Gephardt's candidacy; we aren't out to undermine it. We're just out to do our jobs, and sometimes defining precisely what that is in a circumstance like this is not the easiest thing in the world.
TOM WEBER: In that respect, the Post-Dispatch isn't just writing for its subscribers. Its information is on line for voters all over the country to access, to help them make a choice. And, Soeteber adds, the recent five part series on Gephardt was not flattering. It showcased his tendencies to switch positions on issues as the political waters change. Newsrooms in other candidate hometowns face similar dilemmas. The Hartford Courant ran an article last month called "Why So Much Lieberman Coverage." And Frank Absher, a St. Louis radio historian who has also written for the journalism review says the extra coverage isn't exactly a blessing.
FRANK ABSHER: If you get too much attention too early, there's a risk of a burnout factor, and there's also a risk of what now can I do to keep the attention level so high. That's something that I think Mr. Gephardt needs to be concerned about as do all candidates for office.
TOM WEBER: The Post-Dispatch says it will keep informing the nation of the local guy running for president, but as candidates drop out, the effort will switch to giving each of them equal coverage. It's a decision other newsrooms in St. Louis also face in what could be Gephardt's last campaign ever. He has already said he won't run for a seat in Congress again, but if he becomes the first ever president from St. Louis, local media may face a whole new set of challenges. For On the Media in St. Louis, I'm Tom Weber. [MUSIC]
BOB GARFIELD: Coming up, how Russia covers its elections...not. And how national security concerns quash local information.